Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that normally affects the small joints in your hands and feet. It is an autoimmune disease meaning your body’s immune system, which protects your health by attacking foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses, mistakenly attacks your joints causing inflammation or swelling, redness, warmth and pain. The severity of symptoms varies between individuals and may come and go. Symptoms may include tender, warm, and swollen joints, joint stiffness especially in the morning, firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules), fatigue, fever, and weight loss. Symptoms may get progressively worse and may affect your wrist, knee, ankle, elbow, hip and shoulder joints.
The reason the immune system attacks the joints is unknown, but doctors believe there is a genetic component along with environmental factors. Individuals with a family history, between the ages of 40 and 60, and female are at a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, and lung disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in the beginning because there is no single blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis. However, your doctor may perform a physical exam to check your joints, blood tests, and an x-rays to help diagnose. While there is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are medications to ease the symptoms, reduce inflammation, and slow down the progression of the disease. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, talk with your doctor to learn about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also good sources of information and support.